Remotism works great. The amount of different tools that came out in the last few years enabled people to work from any part of the world. You can have your code reviewed by your teammates from anywhere, jump on a call with people across different timezones, and so on. This allowed companies to hire talent without limiting the search to their zip code area, thus being able to get the best people regardless of where they live.
That big leap in the working industry enabled us to work with great clients in the US, while keeping our offices in our home country. However, remotism falls short compared to working side by side with other people in a few aspects that we need to be aware of, so as to find ways to compensate. When you’re part of a team, in-person collaboration goes a long way. That is the reason why teams at WyeWorks are sent to work from our clients’ offices every now and then. We never stop to amaze ourselves about the amount of value those visits provide to both parties, and because of that they have become an instrumental aspect of our workflow.
So, why do we invest in having our engineers fly several hours to visit the client?
We get precious context information
When you’re not there you miss a lot of the little details, and your head quickly tends to fill that void with assumptions. When people you’re videoconferencing with usually arrive late to meetings, you might automatically start assuming that maybe the meeting is not that important for them, or maybe they’re just lazy. But when you’re there with them, you get to see they might have to walk all the way across the office to get to the meeting room, and that the room is always being used by other people exceeding their time, and that setting things up for the call take a couple of extra minutes they already don’t have.
I remember once assuming the person I needed to interact with the most didn’t really care about the job, and was hardly doing his job at all as far as I could tell. I almost never saw him online. On my first visit to their offices, I realized he was being pulled in so many directions that he was barely in his seat. He was even the first person to arrive and the last one to leave, longing for some uninterrupted time to work.
By being in the same room we also get to actually see how team dynamics play out. Companies usually have a formal org chart telling who reports to whom, but being there allows us to see that maybe there’s a person way below in the hierarchy that gets along really well with the boss, and takes advantage of informal conversations to influence things their way. It happens. And it’s important to be aware of it, so you can act accordingly.
It takes the relationship to a whole new level
Let’s be honest here, nothing beats being face to face to really bond with another person.
When face to face, you actually chat about things regarding life itself that require a lot more effort to do remotely. In our history of visiting clients we had the pleasure to go out on different bonding activities: escape rooms, hiking, kayaking, you name it. Once, our whole team went out to do archery together with the client, and after that we went to his house to eat a home cooked dinner his wife had prepared for us.
By being able to engage in those non-work related activities, we really get to know the person we work with on a daily basis. Nothing is the same after that. Once you can visualize the person behind the nickname on the chat room, share experiences, and become aware of what each other likes and dislikes, a bond is created that sets the team up for success.
We end up adding much more value
Even though we get hired because of our technical expertise, often we realize the bottlenecks preventing substantial progress may be how communication flows (or doesn’t) within the team, or how smooth the dev process is (or isn’t). Understanding where the real pain points reside by being observant let us help our clients in other areas of the business that need to be improved the most.
I don’t need to go further back to come up with examples for this, for only a few weeks ago one of our teams got back from a client visit to DC. In just a few days we made important discussions happen, involving technical decisions as well as aligning the team with the company values. We helped them coming up with a plan to achieve the goals for the year according to their priorities, put some process in place to enable continuous improvement, and more importantly we did it in a way that allowed every voice to be heard. We not only provided everyone with tools to do their job better, but also helped them take a big step in the organizational change they’re going through. Here are a few pics of that trip if you fancy.
I could keep on rambling about the benefits of having our teams work side by side with our clients, but it doesn’t really make justice to how much everything changes after these visits. As I mentioned, we obviously get a lot from them, and so do our clients. It truly is a win-win situation.
When you get a team to really bond together and share a common purpose, and most importantly understand that their strength comes from the team itself, then the result is unprecedented success.